Quarterback Quandary?

Did Drew Bledsoe meet expectations? By all accounts he may have slightly exceeded them, but it wasn't like he was trying to fill monstrous shoes.

The seven-year "trick bag" that preceded his arrival wasn't much to write home about. When it came to 2005 free agent quarterbacks, he was, bar none, the best vehicle on the lot, and the Cowboys had to feel good about their used car purchase. When properly protected and given adequate time to execute, he had his "Pro Bowl" type moments. Due to a litany of contributing factors, the Pro Bowl-like performances could not be relied upon week after week during the 2005 campaign.

While he played extremely well, Drew still has his blemishes. Lack of mobility and a strong propensity to hold the ball, well beyond the precious few seconds NFL signal callers are allotted, constitute the bulk of the glaring deficiencies. Drew, himself, did not solely contribute to a steadily declining, month by month, quarterback rating (107.9, 90.4, 77.5, 73.9 and 53.6), but the pattern eerily resembled past years when production went from roman candle to sparkler status.

When striving to compete deep into January, the December rating is most critical and should be on the rise, not the decline. During the two biggest contests, Bledsoe came up the smallest. The December tilt against the Giants produced a paltry 36.9 QB rating, and the Washington contest, a mere two weeks later, netted a 42.0 QB rating. Not the kind of results on which championships are built. An overall rating of 80.66 is not exactly "Air Coryell," yet it's several notches above "Ralph Kramden." Simply stated, the Cowboys could have done much worse than Bledsoe behind center.

How much does he have left? The Cowboys Nation needs to reside itself to the fact Drew Bledsoe will be quarterbacking Dallas in 2006. As he should. It's a reasonable belief and highly likely he can actively and adequately compete for two, possibly three, more years. This has to be comforting to the Cowboys brass. However, the general populaces, within the Cowboys Nation, clamors for the young, franchise quarterback. An entity they can rely on for the next decade. Two things prompt the wishful thinking. Organizational history when it comes to the position and being extremely spoiled. Scoff if you must, but reality says the fan base, from organizational inception, has enjoyed tremendous blessings when it comes to the man behind center. Yes, the days following the Aikman retirement speech have been vastly below standards. Amen?

Moving forward and for sake of argument, let's pencil in Bledsoe for 2006 and 2007 (ensuring the Parcells' reign a veteran signal caller). Fortify and solidify the offensive line, via the Draft and free agency, and this remains an attractive proposition. If troubled by this, rid yourselves the agony by repeating these NFL names over and over. Joey Harrington. Kyle Boller. Gus Frerotte. Aaron Brooks. Rex Grossman. Kurt Warner. Josh McCown. Yes, things could be much worse. Thus, the concern and focal point must be solidifying the back-up and #3 slots in preparation for life after Drew (A.D.).

Frustration exists and mounts in trying to determine the exact organizational read on both Tony Romo and Drew Henson. Especially Tony Romo. There has to be a contingency, which believes in the former Eastern Illinois product, or he wouldn't currently be riding shotgun. Parcells is too smart to dismiss the possibility of Bledsoe getting hurt. He's been around long enough to understand the concept of insurance. It's highly doubtful the Cowboys would have journeyed the 2005 road as they did without confidence in young Mr. Romo. That, or it was a monumental gamble that paid off. The masses want a glimpse of what the future could hold, but barring an injury to Bledsoe, it just isn't going to happen with Parcells at the helm. He will always go with the guy who provides him the best opportunity to win. Don't hold your breath hoping otherwise.

If he wanted to test the waters and showcase the talent, the St. Louis game would have been the perfect opportunity. Nothing, but possible Draft order status, was riding on the contest. Romo and Henson didn't even sniff the field of play. Some things just aren't going to change on the Parcells' watch.

A little over a year removed, and upon reflection, the 2004 Thanksgiving contest against the Bears remains a mystery. A quick refresher finds regular starter, Vinny Testaverde, "nicked," and Drew Henson is given the starting nod. With first half results near disastrous, Parcells calls Testaverde into action in order to secure the win. Looking back, why not Romo? Why didn't Romo start over Henson? Why didn't Romo replace Henson instead of Testaverde coming out of triage? Lack of trust or a coach who already knew what he had? The kind of thing that makes one go hmmmm.

Is there any debate Drew Henson needs to be relegated to NFL Europe this off-season? If for nothing more than assessment purposes, don't the Cowboys have to see him in live, game action? There may be no other way to shed the rust and sharpen the decision-making skills. He has to face live bullets. Romo's participation overseas is probably a 50-50 proposition, but it must also be considered. Remember, decisions have to be made well in advance of A.D. The question remains, can they or can't they lead the organization when the baton is passed? Now that Parcells has re-upped for two more seasons, the overall QB situation has to be a top three priority for the organization heading into 2006.

No quarterback discussion, especially one concerning a succession plan, would be complete without mention of the 2006 Draft. Back to the clamorers. Anyone calling for the names Leinart and Young (should he declare), save it. Why? Cost. How much of the future are you willing to mortgage to secure either's rights? Bidding, to move up the board, will certainly start at two #1's. Minimum. Would you give three #1's? Not unless the names Manning or Aikman are involved. Depending on the A.J. Smith decision, how about Philip Rivers or Drew Brees (pending the shoulder)? Again, how much are you willing to part with? The ante most likely will start at two #1's.

When it comes to money, Jerry Jones doesn't blink, and he's done it before. For a position other than QB. Granted, history may not repeat itself, but the words Joey Galloway have to enter the thought process. Thus, selecting a top notch, top caliber offensive lineman with their first pick makes the likes of a Jay Cutler (Vanderbilt QB) very attractive in Round Two. The Draft focus must turn to the offensive side of the ball, and with many areas of concern, the organization can ill-afford to dispense future picks, especially first-rounders, like a Pez machine. G.M. School 101 says unless reaching for a "sure" thing, let the Draft come to you. Back to Cutler for a moment, a four-year starter, with productive results, in the SEC, is nothing to sneeze at. He has game.

Every year the QB debates engage, and there are bound to be "Drew Must Go" supporters, but it would be extreme short-sidedness to think #11 won't be under center for the 2006 and 2007 campaigns. Again, you may bristle at the thought, but calm yourselves by considering the alternatives. Solidify the offensive line and let Drew do his thing. The crosshairs should be squarely aimed at life after Bledsoe. In legislative terms, the Cowboys are seeking the Vice President and Speaker of the House. Succession planning is eminent. Finally, and in an attempt to assist the Bledsoe doubters and detractors, ask yourselves this. If the surrounding pieces and supporting casts were in place, could this QB lead your team to the Super Bowl? In Bledsoe's defense, the answer is an unequivocal, yes. Relax. There are bigger fish to fry, and the Cowboys need to be looking for the proper ingredients.

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